“My dear friend having the same tastes as myself, would certainly wish always for my chair, and, like his little daughter, would beat me to make me give it up to him. To keep peace between our hearts, I send a chair for him also. The two are of suitable height and their lightness renders them easy to carry. They are made of the most simple material, and were bought at the sale of Philemon and Baucis.”
Thus wrote Madame Geoffrin to Madame Necker when the intimacy between them had reached such a pitch as to warrant the introduction into the Necker salons of the only sort of chair in which the little old lady cared to sit.
The “dear friend” was M. Necker, and the “little daughter” of the house must then have been about four or five years old, for it was in the very year of her birth (1766) that Madame Geoffrin took her celebrated journey to Poland, and it was some little time after her return that she became intimate with Germaine Necker’s parents.
They were still in the Rue de Cléry. M. Necker’s elevation to the Contrôle Général was in the future and had probably not been foreseen; it is possible that even the Éloge de Colbert, which betrayed his desire for power, had not yet appeared; nevertheless, he was already a great man. His controversy with the Abbé Morellet, on the subject of the East India Company, had brought him very much into notice; and, although his arguments in favor of that monopoly had not saved it from extinction, they had caused his name to be in everybody’s mouth.
His position as Minister for the Republic of Geneva gave him the entry to the Court of Versailles, and brought him into contact with illustrious personages, who otherwise might have disdained a mere wealthy foreigner, neither a noble nor a Catholic. His well-filled purse completed his popularity, for it was not seldom at the service of abject place-hunters and needy literati. Moreover, he had been fortunate in his choice of a wife.
By the time that the King of Poland’s bonne maman wrote that little note to Madame Necker, the wife of the Genevese banker had founded a salon as brilliant and crowded as Madame Geoffrin’s own. She had achieved this in a few years, whereas Madame Geoffrin for the same task, and in spite of her wealth and generosity, had required a quarter of a century.